The University of the Arts and Sarah Lawrence College faculty are just the latest victims of the “therapeutic model of education, which prioritizes feelings and happiness over learning,” according to Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and vocal critic of President Trump.
He writes in The Atlantic that a “more noxious version” of 1960s campus activism “is now in full swing, with students demanding a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like.”
The student activists’ agenda “could have come out of China during the Cultural Revolution—if Maoists had been as obsessed with race and sexuality as they were with class,” Nichols writes.
He cites the proliferation of ludicrous demands, particularly at elite liberal arts schools: student-led tenure review of Abrams, replacement of self-identified transgender Paglia with a “queer person of color,” and creation of a black studies department at recruitment-challenged Middlebury College (in Vermont, “the whitest state of the nation”).
“This is not activism so much as it is preening would-be totalitarianism,” enabled by the supposed leaders of these institutions, Nichols warns:
First, we have to recognize a shameless dereliction of duty among faculty and administrators. Student activism can be an important part of education, but it is in the nature of students, especially among the young, to take moral differences to their natural extreme, because it is often their first excursion into the territory of an examined and conscious belief system. Faculty, both as interlocutors and mentors, should pull students back from the precipice of moral purity and work with them to acquire the skills and values that not only imbue tolerance, but provide for the rational discussion of opposing, and even hateful, views.
This “unbridled and performative student activism” is in some part “a disease of affluence,” he says. Students feel entitled to get everything they want because of the time and money they spend on their educations, and administrators invite them to do so:
Colleges take the temperature of their students constantly, asking if they feel fulfilled, if they like their courses, and if they have any complaints. Little wonder that the students have made the short and obvious jump to the conclusion that they should be in charge.
This is exactly backwards, Nichols says:
Students must be reminded that they petitioned the institution for entry, and not the other way around; they asked the university to allow them to enter into a contract in which the professors are obligated to educate them and they are obligated to fulfill the requirements that will allow those professors to recommend them to the university for graduation. …
The contract is not just a bill for client services from the university’s dutiful employees. It is a promise by the students to accept instruction, rather than to give it.